By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneJuly 22, 2014
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Looking out at the veterans gathered together at the Floyd E. "Tut" Fann State Veterans Home, Maj. Gen. Heidi V. Brown felt her dad's presence.
Brown's late father, retired Maj. William Brown, and her mother raised six children, five of whom have served or are serving in the military.
"Especially seeing the World War II veterans and the Korean War veterans, I see my dad in them. I think we can't do enough for our veterans," she said.
"They make you remember all the people who have come before you, all the men and women who have served and paved the way for folks like me and others."
The two-star general, the director of test at the Missile Defense Agency, was the guest speaker at the 19th anniversary celebration of the Tut Fann veterans home on July 10. She is a 1981 West Point graduate, and the first female general in the Army's air defense artillery branch, to command an Army air defense artillery brigade and to lead Soldiers into combat during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, among other firsts. She has a Legion of Merit and Bronze Star in her war chest. She is the first female general to visit the Tut Fann veterans home.
"Many of you present today have served in some of the nation's most challenging times -- World War II, Korea and Vietnam -- and I thank you all for your service, dedication and devotion to our great country," Brown said.
The nation's "greatest generation" -- those serving in the military during World War II -- include both Brown's father and the veterans home's namesake, Floyd E. "Tut" Fann.
"The challenges that faced our greatest generation were severe," Brown said. "Born just prior to the Great Depression, this generation came of age during a time that would have crushed the soul of a lesser generation."
Desperate Americans took menial jobs and sacrificed educational opportunities just so they could financially support their families. While other nations took on the worldwide economic depression by turning to totalitarianism, which, in turn, led to the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany, imperialism in the Japanese empire and communism in Russia, Americans developed a "sense of compassion for those less fortunate, a frugalness in all things great and small, and a willingness to pull oneself up by their bootstraps to ensure their families would have greater opportunities for success than they themselves ever did," Brown said.
Born in 1923, Tut Fann served in the Civilian Conservation Corps before entering military service at Fort McClellan. During the war, he was assigned to the 736th Tank Battalion, nicknamed the "Kid Battalion" because it was made up of enlisted men who were 18 or 19.
Prior to deployment to the European theater, the battalion was given a special secret weapon known to tankers as the "Gizmo." It was a device mounted on the tank turret that produces a brilliant beam of light at 13 million candlepower. The light passed through a narrow slot and, with the use of special lens and mirrors, it caused rapid changes and dilations of the pupils. Such a weapon could be used to hinder the enemy.
The battalion trained secretly in the California desert (where Walt Disney Studios designed a special Kid Battalion unit patch) and then was sent to Great Britain for the invasion of the "Fortress Europe." But, during preparations, Army leadership decided to refit the 736th with more conventional light and medium tanks, and the Gizmo only saw limited operations.
The 736th arrived in Europe a couple weeks after D-Day, landing on Utah Beach and pushing into Northern France, Belgium, Holland and Germany.
"As a medium tank crew member, Tut fought in Northern France, the Rhineland, the Ardennes and in central Europe," Brown said, adding that he was wounded in the Adrennes during the Battle of the Bulge and received a Purple Heart.
The 736th was part of the 83rd Infantry Division, known as the "Rag-Tag Circus," when the war ended as they met the Russian Army at the Elbe.
"The battalion was awarded five battle stars for its major engagements. The Kid Battalion was the closest armor unit to Berlin at the end of the war," Brown said.
Like Fann, Brown's father was also awarded for his heroic actions in battle, receiving the Silver Star as a forward observer with the 131st Field Artillery, 36th Infantry Division, during Gen. George Patton's invasion of North Africa. His citation reads that on Oct. 26, 1943, during an amphibious landing where he was under German tank fire, he accurately directed the artillery fires of his battery and the fire of Naval units from the U.S. cruiser USS Savannah to repel the tank assaults and lead to the successful accomplishment of the mission.
Brown's father went on to serve as a forward observer for the 141st Infantry Battalion in the battles of Eboli, Alta Villa, San Vittore, San Pietro, Rapido, Mount Trocchio, Monete Cassino and Rome.
In 1945, after a brief assignment to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, he was sent to the Philippines with the 71st Joint Assault Signal Company, 81st Infantry (Wildcat) Division to participate in single-man reconnaissance missions against Japanese forces and to deploy from a Navy ship by rubber boat under the cover of darkness to the Japanese-held islands of Leyte and Luzon. Five other Americans who had served on such missions had been killed. But before he could go on a mission, Gen. Douglas MacArthur ended the island operations.
"He would tell us that action most likely saved his life and allowed the six of us to be born," Brown said of her brothers and sisters.
Brown's father went on to serve as a commander of a fire direction center supporting the 38th Infantry Battalion in actions against North Korean and Chinese forces.
He then retired and became a teacher and an assistant principal in El Paso, Texas. "Of his six children, five of us have proudly worn the uniform of the United States, four in the Army and one in the Air Force. We are keeping his tradition of service alive in our actions," Brown said.
Like Brown's father, Fann also continued a life of service after leaving the Army in 1945. He became involved in veterans service organizations and civic groups in Huntsville and in the state.
"In January 1980, as a member of the State Board of Veterans Affairs and state commander of the American Legion, Tut Fann was instrumental in passing the first resolution by the American Legion that called for a feasibility study to determine whether Alabama needed a veterans home," Brown said. Nine years later, the first of three such veterans homes was built in the state.
"Tut Fann was always advocating for veterans benefits. He fought long and hard to make his voice heard against any and all cuts to veterans administration affairs," Brown said.
His work led to the opening of an outpatient clinic in Huntsville in 1987 and, before his death in 1992, he was working to establish a state veterans home in Huntsville. That veterans home opened in 1995 under Fann's name.
"Your father has done so much to make this home a reality today," Brown said, addressing his relatives in the audience.
"Every one of you has a story," she continued, speaking to the audience. "Every one of you proudly served our great nation. Our nation is what it is today because of your personal and professional sacrifices. Our nation owes you a great debt and we work to repay that every single day."
The celebration included a day of entertainment, picnic foods including hamburgers, snow cones and ice cream, a moon bounce for visiting children, and lots of fellowship for veterans, their families and the staff.
"It's really emotional for me to be here and be amongst great warriors like yourselves," Charlotee Eason, the veterans home director, told the veterans. "It's a blessing to me and a blessing to members of the staff to be able to serve the veterans and their families."
Retired Sgt. Bob Stamm, who is both a Korea and Vietnam veteran, said the program and all the activities planned for the day were great. Both he and Korean War sergeant Howard Saint are happy with the programs, activities and services provided to them at the veterans home.
"I like it here. They have given me everything I've asked for and everyone here is so nice," Saint said. "But I don't like that I'm not with my wife. She means more to me than anything in the world. I want to be where she is all the time."